Beliefnet
Common Word, Common Lord

In the Name of GOD, the Compassionate, the Merciful

It has only been a few days, but it almost seems that Ramadan is a distant memory. Now, I am eating and drinking during the day, and although it still feels a little weird, it is a most welcome change. Indeed, I am trying to keep up  the good habits I learned during Ramadan, and I am trying to keep it’s spirit alive for as long as possible. Yet, when I reflect over the past month of fasting during the very hot days of August, I can only smile with happiness.

I am so very glad I did it.

It feels so great to have been able to fast during the month of Ramadan this year. There is a tremendous sense of accomplishment, perhaps because of the fact that the days were long and frequently hot. Yet, on a more important level, I am so glad that I was able to suck it up and fast despite my tremendous fear as the month started. I am so glad that I overcame my weakness and stuck it out for God.

More than any other ritual practice of Islam, fasting is the one ritual that God says is for Him. According to the Sacred Tradition, God said: “Fasting is for Me, and I give the reward for it.” That is because, more than any other ritual practice, you can’t fake fasting. When you are alone – and it is hot, and you are very, very thirsty – you simply cannot keep fasting if you are doing it for show.

But, if you are doing it for God, as an act of love in return for His tremendous love for you, then despite all the thirst and hunger in the world (assuming you don’t get sick), you simply will not break down and eat or drink. You will suck it up and stick it out. At least, I did so, even on days when I could not bear the hunger or thirst. And I am so happy that I did, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to do so.

I hope and pray that the Lord will accept my fasts this year and every subsequent year until the day I die. Although I can’t predict the future, I do pledge that I will do my best to fast and fast faithfully each and every year, because I love God so very, very much.

And that is because He loved me first.

Advertisement

In the Name of GOD, the Compassionate, the Merciful

A happy and blessed Eid to each and every one of you. May the Beautiful LORD shower and cover you all with His Grace, His Love, His Blessing, and His Mercy.

Have a great, great day!

Advertisement

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

It is amazing that it is finally here: the final day of the month of fasting. Indeed, it did seem to go by quickly, yet at the same time, however, the days of fasting seemed to never want to end. I am not going to put on a show for you: this year’s fast was quite difficult. The days were very long, and as they went along, I would seem to move in slow motion in the afternoon. I must admit that I am a bit excited to be able to eat and drink during the day once again.

Yet, I did my best. I tried to remain faithful to the fast as much as I could. And even when I did stupid things (like play golf in 98 degree heat) while fasting, never once did I even think about breaking my fast. I stuck with it as best I could because, for my entire life, the Precious Beloved stuck with me through thick and thin.

And so, as Muslims the world over are (or will be) celebrating the end of the month of fasting, I turn to the Precious Beloved in prayer:

Kind and Beautiful, Gracious and Merciful, Majestic and Mighty Precious Beloved LORD OUR GOD.
The end of the month of fasting has now come, and I turn to your Beautiful Face to ask Your pardon.

Forgive me, O LORD, for all the times I wished I was not fasting, because of the depth of thirst and pain of hunger.
Forgive me, O LORD, for all those times that I could not stand up in the night in prayer because of weakness, or fatigue, or laziness
Forgive me, O LORD, for all the times I did not fast completely as I should have fasted, even though You have given me so much
Forgive me, O LORD, for all the times when I did not fully live up to the standard by which You have asked me.

Precious Beloved LORD, I tried my best to be the best servant I can be, and I know I could have done better for Your sake, my Lord. And so I ask thee, my Beautiful Beloved Lord, to forgive me and accept me into Your Holy and Honorable Fold. I tried my best this year, O LORD, and so please accept me and my fast, my prayers, my charity, and my night vigils.

Beautiful Beloved LORD, I love you so very, very much because You have been so beautiful to me for my whole life. And because You, O Beautiful LORD, loved me first when I was nothing. LORD, thank you for every single thing in my life; LORD, thank you for Your Love; and LORD, thank you very, very much for the fast. Please make me a better person because of it.

Advertisement

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

One of the (very few) advantages of fasting a long (long, long) day is that there is ample time to read and reflect over Scripture. I mean, since there is really nothing else to do while waiting to eat, might as well read the Qur’an. Besides, this is one of the reasons to fast during Ramadan: to honor the revelation of the Qur’an, which occurred during this most holy of months.

One of the most significant verses, among the thousands, across which I came was this verse:

And yet there are people who choose to believe in beings that allegedly rival God,loving them as [only] God should be loved: whereas those who have attained to faith love God more than all else. If they who are bent on evildoing could but see – as see they will when they are made to suffer [on Resurrection Day] -that all might belongs to God alone, and that God is severe in [meting out] punishment! (2:165)

What I focused on the most in this verse is this phrase: “Whereas those who have attained to faith love God more than all else.” The Arabic can also read that the believers are “most intense in their love for God.” And the crux of the matter, when it comes to fasting, becomes clearly evident.

On the surface of it, fasting makes very little sense: going more than 15 hours without food or drink, not even water, during a long and hot summer day looks like torture. Yet, when I think about it a little more: it is a small thing to do compared to the enormous bounty which the Lord has bestowed upon us.

When we thirst throughout the day – and we think of the nice, cold drink that is waiting for us in the refrigerator – it is a reminder of the enormous bounty of having that drink be there. When we hunger throughout the day – and we think of the succulent meal that is waiting for us at sunset – it is a reminder of the tremendous blessing of having that meal be there. There are millions upon millions – all across our world – who are not so fortunate to have food and drink so readily accessible.

If we are healthy enough to fast, that is a blessing in and of itself. I once heard someone say that “health is a crown that someone wears, but it can only be seen by those who are ill.” We should never take our good health for granted, and one of the ways we can be grateful to the Lord, for bestowing upon us health, is to fast when we are asked to do so. Fasting also reminds us of the poor and less fortunate, and if we are blessed with wealth and means, then we should be grateful by helping those less fortunate than we are as best as we can.

All these bounties that the Lord has given us: food, drink, health, wealth, safety, security; all of these He gave to us when we have done nothing for God to deserve it. Yet, He gave it to us anyway because He loved us. His love for us preceded us, and His love for us continues to permeate every fabric of our lives and beings. Each day we breathe and bask in the light of the sun, we really bask in God’s love. The fact that He gave us life itself, without us giving him anything beforehand (and there is nothing we can give Him that He needs), is because of His tremendous and undying love for us.

Therefore, seeing and living all this love, we naturally love Him right back. And as the Qur’an states, that love is most intense for God, and we love God more than anything else. Thus, when He asks us to fast for one month out of the year, if we are able to do so, it is really a “no-brainer.” We do so because we love God so very much for all the things with which He has blessed us.

And that is what keeps me patient as my throat dries and my stomach pains in hunger as the day wears on. I remember all the love my Precious Beloved showered upon me, and I feel so much love for Him. And so I reinvigorate my resolve to keep fasting as faithfully as I can. That’s because I love God so much…because He loved me first.

Advertisement

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Yesterday, I blogged about how bad I felt – despite doing nothing wrong – not being able to fast due to my knee injury. Well, I talked to my doctor, and he gave me a different anti-inflammatory medicine that would allow me to safely fast and still treat my knee injury.

So, today I am fasting: Yes, I am thirsty as I write this; yes, I am tired from having to wake up early and eat something before I took my medicine; yes, I can’t wait for the sun to set…

But, I feel totally awesome inside. There is something to this fasting, and whatever it is, it is absolutely wonderful.

Advertisement

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

It is no secret that I have approached this year’s Ramadan fast with an enormous amount of dread. I worried about the hot weather, the long days, the difficulty of having to forgo the things I love to do – eat and drink – for an extended period of time. And as the month started, the fast was – admittedly – quite difficult. But, I did it anyway, because it is one of the things I do for my Lord.

Over the last six weeks, I have been battling a knee injury that I must have sustained while jogging. I suffered through the pain, thinking that it will eventually go away, especially since I am not exercising during Ramadan. The pain, however, did not get better. It has, in fact, gotten worse. So much so, that I went to the Emergency Department yesterday to get it evaluated. I could barely walk into the ED yesterday.

Thank God, everything checked out OK, but I was still in pain, and so – thank God – my Orthopedic Surgeon could see me right away. He injected my knee, which gave me some relief, and I got an MRI which showed some soft tissue inflammation. My surgeon told me that I have to rest and ice the knee as well as take round -the-clock anti-inflammatory medicines.

And this meant having to break my fast to take the medicine. I was hesitant at first, but I knew it was the right thing to do. And my family really pushed me to not fast as well, seeing that my health is of utmost importance (and they are right). And so, today I am not fasting, and I may not fast the next few days either, as I nurse the knee back to health.

You would think that, given all the dread I have about fasting in August, I would be happy to be able to drink and eat during the daylight hours, if even for a short time. You would think that I would be excited to have water and yogurt and maybe even coffee again. You would think that I would be happy that I am not fasting for these few days.

You would be totally wrong. I feel absolutely miserable.

Leave aside the fact that any sudden jolt, and my knee pain becomes excruciating. I feel terrible that I am not fasting. This is not because I have no right to break my fast or am ashamed at doing so. On the contrary, the Quran directs that I should not fast if my health commands that I do not. But, I still feel totally abnormal that I am not fasting.

Not because everyone around me is fasting, and I am not. My colleagues are almost all not Muslim, and so my eating and drinking would not be out of the ordinary at all. Some, many in fact, do not even know that this is Ramadan. Yet, still, I feel weird and uncomfortable. I feel totally out of my norm not fasting during Ramadan. It is almost like my soul is yearning again to fast, even though sunset is almost at 8 PM.

I am completely surprised by this feeling. Yet, I totally can’t help it. Yes, I get tired while fasting; yes, I get thirsty; yes, I feel sleepy, sometimes. But my soul is invigorated while I fast, and now that I am not fasting, I can totally feel the difference.

God willing, my knee will get better soon, and I can resume my fasts. And whatever days I miss, I will have to make up later (probably in the short days of winter!). Yet, still – in a strange sort of way – I miss fasting, even though it is still August. Even though I can’t eat or drink until late, when I fast, my soul basks in the light of God’s Grace and Mercy, and I don’t like not being able to feel that any more.

Advertisement

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

This was my guest post on the Beliefnet blog, City of Brass.

As Ramadan approached, I had no small amount of dread. Fasting, of all the ritual practices of Islam, is the most difficult for me to do. I am not happy to admit this, but this is one of my (many) human weaknesses. Add to that the long, hot days of summer, and you get dread on my face and in my soul. In fact, I addressed this fear in a poetic letter to my soul just before the month began.

Now, Ramadan is here in full force, and I will just have to suck it up and fast. It is strongly recommended to eat a pre-dawn meal/snack called suhoor, and it is for good reason, too, especially in the long days of summer. But, I usually do not do so: I don’t feel well afterwards, and it makes the entire rest of the day even more difficult. I remember once during Residency, I ate gyros for suhoor, and I regretted it SO much. I had horrific heartburn the entire first half of the day, and I could not take anything to make it better. Never again, I said to myself. Mostly, my suhoor is a large heaping of water to help keep me as hydrated as possible for the coming day of fasting.

Yet, no matter how much water I will drink before the time to stop eating and drinking, it is inevitable that I will get thirsty as the day wears on. So, I change some of my routine: I stop working out in the morning throughout Ramadan. I could – theoretically – get up at 3 AM and hit the elliptical…but that is madness. I need sleep more than I need exercise, especially during Ramadan, when I stay up a little later to pray special prayers. So, no exercise for me. Last year, when I was training for the Chicago Marathon, I also skipped my Ramadan runs. And, I was still able to finish the race with a time of 5:37, thanks be to God.

Also, I frequently have “Ramadan stashes” in my lab coat pocket for after sunset: it might be a small pack of M&Ms, or – like yesterday – a piece of Ghirardelli’s chocolate, or a small chocolate bar. The Prophet (pbuh) used to break his fast with dates, and I definitely do that as well. Yet, I take it to the next level: I make a date/milk delight: I soak dates in an ice cold cup of milk for several hours before sunset. Many times, I will also add some walnuts. It is AWESOME. Things such as these makes sunset something to which I look forward, and it makes breaking my fast all the sweeter, both literally and figuratively.

One good thing about fasting during the summer is that there is a lot of time for spiritual reflection and recitation/reading of the Qur’an. And that is the whole point of the fast of Ramadan: to take away food and drink for just enough so that you can think “upward,” and reflect over the enormous blessing of having food and drink every single day and not even thinking about it. Thus, I should be motivated to help the poor and hungry who – many times – do not have even one square meal a day. And suprisingly, many said people are right here in the United States.

And, Lord, are there blessings in Ramadan. Everything seems to go much more smoothly during Ramadan. In fact, many of the most important things in my life have happened during Ramadan. My medical school interview was during Ramadan: I was accepted three months later. I had a very important high school track meet during Ramadan also. My coach told me that, in order for our team to win first place, I had to throw the shot put 42 feet at least: my distance was 42 feet and six inches. Just yesterday, coming home from vacation, the airport security experience was the easiest ever. Yes, I have to not have my coffee in the morning, but there are so many good things that come with the month of fasting.

All in all, Ramadan is a very good thing, but it is not without hardship and dread on my part. All I can do is fast to the best of my ability, try to clean up some of the bad habits I have learned throughout the year, polish my spirituality and improve my ritual practice, and pray that the Precious Beloved Lord accepts my efforts. Knowing how Beautiful He is, I am confident He will do just that.

Read more: http://blog.beliefnet.com/cityofbrass/2011/08/ramadan-realities.html#ixzz1UY3P8qHX

Advertisement

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

It was no secret that I approached the month of Ramadan with a large amount of fear and dread (along with shame). Now that Ramadan will be in the summer (in the Northern Hemisphere) for the next six to ten years, I am scared about the very long, very hot days and fasting. Normally, I like summer…when I’m fasting during it, however, it is a little tough. Thus, I was scared.

Well, it is now Ramadan 2, and I’m still here. I made it! Yeah, it was a little hard to wait until 8:11 PM to eat and drink. But, after all was said and done, it was not that bad. Now, I did have the option of breaking my fast yesterday as I was traveling. But, I decided (with much goading and encouragement from my wife) to fast anyway.

Yeah, I could have really used a cup of coffee in the airport; yeah, it was hard smelling those french fries that someone had bought and not be able to eat them; yeah, it was sad to not get to drink a can of diet soda on the plane. But, nothing happened. I was just fine. And I hope and pray that the Lord has blessed me tremendously for my fast.

Indeed, there are still long days of fasting ahead. Indeed, the heat of August will likely be oppressive. But, this is my time to show the Lord (and the world at large) that I love Him so much that I am willing to not eat and drink throughout the long days of August. No, He doesn’t need my fasts; He needs nothing at all.

But, I am still happy to do it anyway – even if I may not have a smile on my face at 6 PM with more than 2 hours left to eat.

Advertisement

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Most Merciful

“Hesham’s iPod” is an occasional post about what’s hot, what’s spiritual, and what’s buzzworthy in Muslim music, and about the nature of Muslim artists.

20110715-034420.jpg

Every once in a while, a popular musical group comes out with a heartfelt song full of wonderful, inspiring messages. One such example is “Where is the Love?” by the Black Eyed Peas. When I hear songs like this, I think to myself: Why don’t more musicians sing more songs like this? Well, folks, we have such a musician: American (Muslim) country singer Kareem Salama.

I have been a fan of Kareem Salama ever since he burst on the scene a few years ago. His first album, Generous Peace, was great, with many wonderful, heartfelt tracks. My absolute favorite on that album is “Lady Mary,” which is about the Virgin Mary. It almost always makes me cry. Salama’s newest album, “City of Lights,” is even better.

This album is intended to be much more “mainstream” than “country,” so to speak, and it is. That is especially true for the first track, “Makes Me Crazy.” But what strikes me most about this album is the varied subject matter of his songs, and how each of them is truly uplifting and spiritually fulfilling. Take this line from the track “Heavenly Dreams”:

Some of us do believe/God gave us heavenly dreams

Those two lines of verse are so profound that I can write so much about it (which I plan to do). The love songs on his album – “We Could Be Friends,” “Beat In My Heart,” and others – are so pure and meaningful. Salama proves that one can sing about love and not have to go after our base nature. That is one of his strongest suits.

Yet, hands down, the runaway hit on this album is the rock re-make of “Baby, I’m a Soldier.” He originally released the song on his first album and that version was very nice. But this version is AWESOME.

The song is about war and the experience of soldiers. It tells the amazing story of two soldiers on either side of a conflict, and the amazing thing that happens when they meet each other in battle. It is such an uplifting story, and everyone – especially our elected leaders – should listen to this song and learn from its many lessons (I will write about this one, too).

The bridge of this song is fantastic: he keeps the listener on edge, endlessly wondering about what thing “shocked” both soldiers. While waiting for the answer, the listener is treated with the best bit of electric guitar I have ever heard. It moves me so much, and I have listened to this specific part of the song over and over again without tiring. I was never really a rock/country fan, but Kareem Salama has made me a convert. Moreover, he is blazing the trail of (Muslim) rock/country, and I am forever grateful for it.

If you haven’t already noticed, I placed the word “Muslim” in parenthesis because, the fact that he is Muslim is wholly parenthetical. If you listen to the album without knowing the name of the singer, you would think it is an average rock/country album. The fact that Kareem is Muslim is irrelevant. I actually performed this “experiment,” if you will, with my neighbor, and he was shocked when I told him the singer is Muslim.

But that is the whole point: one can sing “Muslim rock” without once saying “Allah,” or “Islam,” or “Muhammad.” What I love most about Kareem Salama’s work is that he is not a singer who says “Allah” in a cowboy hat. He infuses his music with Islamic themes and spirituality, and the listener does not know it. And that is also the whole point: Islamic themes are universal and in common with the themes of all faiths and traditions, and Kareem weaves them in masterfully.

I will say again what I said with Muslim hip-hop group Native Deen: Go get this album. You will not regret it.

 

Advertisement

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

I am reviving my “Hesham’s iPod” series, which is an occasional about what’s hot, what’s spiritual, and what’s buzzworthy in Muslim music, and about the nature of Muslim artists. 

I have been listening to rap music ever since my teenage years. Indeed, I do admit that some of it was not very pious or religious, and for that, I ask for God’s grace and forgiveness. And Let me insert here that the rap music of then was much better than that of today. I miss the “good old days” of hip hop, quite honestly. But, still, there has never been a rap album that has made me cry.

Until now.

Native Deen, the premier Muslim hip-hop band, just released their new album “The Remedy.” By far, this is their best album yet. I do like and enjoy listening to all of their songs, but on the previous two albums, “Deen You Know” and “Not Afraid to Stand Alone,” there were some songs that were nice, but really didn’t move me. The tears, however, stream frequently as I listened to this album.

It is clear – as it should be – that the music of Native Deen has evolved. On the first album, much of the songs talked about Islam, and the Prophets, and such, but the flavor of the songs were very much flat. It also seemed a little “adolescent.” It got better with “Not Afraid to Stand Alone,” with more than one inspiring and uplifting song, such as “Life’s Worth” and “Rain Song.” No track on that album, however, compared with “Zamilooni,” which featured South African Muslim singer Zain Bhikha. That song, about the Prophet’s love for his wife Khadjiah, was the best they had at that point.

That is, until they released “The Remedy.” As with every album, they always begin with a song singing God’s praises and thanks, and the song, “Bismillah” is hip, fresh, and makes you move. I am almost moved to tears by “Mercy to Mankind,” which reminds me of the kindness and compassion of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). “Packed At All,” which talks about preparing for Judgment Day, is quite inspirational as well.

The tears really start, however, at “My Faith, My Voice.” This song talks about not allowing the Islam-bashers and Islamophobes direct the discourse about Islam and Muslims. The lyrics of the song speak for the millions of Muslims all over the world, who have to shudder every time a Muslim commits a crime:

There’s a lunatic, goes on a rampage/Using violence, and I’m outraged/This is senseless, and it’s gruesome/Please don’t let this be a Muslim

How many times have we Muslims all said that? But they always remind us that the discourse belongs to us Muslim, not the haters:

I know what they call us/They’ll try to blame all us/But I know how the Prophet lived/And I know what he taught us/This is my faith, my voice

I can’t help but cry. It uplifts me and keeps me strong: no matter what they say about us, Islam is my faith, and my voice is what counts.

Once this song is through, the next is the title track of the album,”The Remedy.” I thought it would be a typical song about how Islam is the remedy to all of our problems, a sort of “Islam is the solution” mantra put to rap. How wrong I was.

The entire song is nothing but repetition of God’s names and the shahadah, or testimony of faith. And the rhythm of the song is so awesome, that you can’t help but bop your head. But, the sounds of their voices go straight to my heart and make me reach out to the Lord in humility and love. And the tears stream. I have listened to this track a bunch of times, and it is – far and away – the best of the whole album.

This latest Native Deen album has a little of everything for everyone. There is a song about the Companion Bilal, the first Muezzin, or “caller to the prayer,” called “Ahad,” and it also made cry, reminding me of the strength and fortitude of that great companion, who was tortured for his conversion to Islam. Native Deen has also continued in the tradition of Muslim holiday songs with “Ramadan is Here,” and this will instantly become a classic. I will definitely play this one for my kids once Ramadan starts in a few weeks, God willing.

Another tear jerker is “I am Near,” a song with great rhythm and sound along with beautiful supplications to the Lord. The boys of Native Deen also constantly remind us of the poor and needy around the world with songs like “Hungry Ones,” and “Gaza,” which is a homage to the people of Palestine. I really can’t say enough about this album, and Native Deen has truly outdone itself, making an album that appeals both to Muslim children and youth, along with their parents. My daughters and I just finished listening to the album, and we all enjoyed doing so.

Now, it is no secret that the primary audience of Native Deen is Muslims. Yet, that does not mean that this album is not good for people of all faiths. It is, at its core, a great, modern hip hop album, and one that is pure to boot. The beats and the rhythms are fantastic. But, this album also lets listeners in on the internal conversations of the American Muslim community. You want to know what Muslims are saying to each other? Don’t listen to the Islamophobes, who are – by and large – lying to your face. Listen to Native Deen.

Bottom line: Go out and buy this album. You will not regret it.

Previous Posts